Rylee’s Last Batch of School Cookies: The Art of Embedding an Essential Memory

“We’re like bookends,” I thought. “Michael’s musings over how sweetly tender a small moment like blow-drying a baby’s hair can be; my musings over my bowl of peanut butter cookie dough at 7:30 a.m.”

The bowl of peanut butter cookie dough was the “last batch of school cookies” I would be making my youngest. I was baking them yesterday, as she got dressed for her last official day of instruction at the Academy of Hair Design. And, I was working very hard on trying to force-feed my memory embedding system with some sort of signal that would capture this moment and freeze it, or perhaps bronze it, for posterity.

I reached down to grab my heavy duty, several-ply stainless steel half baking sheet that I love so much. I hesitated, and instead opted for a small, flimsy baking sheet I knew had come with a toaster oven from a marriage gift twenty-five years ago. I wanted to make sure that the equipment I was using honored the entire nineteen and one-half years of my daughter’s existence.

Occasionally, I will bake a sheet of cookies for about twelve minutes in order to get one group a little browner than the rest. I like darker brown cookies. But not this morning. I sat the timer for 9 minutes every rotation, until the last cookie was made. Rylee likes them “lightly browned” like you see in photos of perfect cookies. These weren’t for me, nor were they for my family. They were for her and the school friends who would be hugging her goodbye today.

I ran to the bathroom, blew my nose, washed my hands then returned to the kitchen to finish my task. I was thinking about the other times in my life when I had tried to somehow super-embed memories and soak every last bit of the essence from that snapshot of life with her. I remember several when she was a baby, and frequently they were at night when she had awakened for a late night feeding.

Then there was kindergarten in her Thanksgiving Indian costume. And when she won the handstand contest at a gymnastics meet, even against her instructors. And when she was screaming with glee as she bounced on the trampoline with her neighbor friends. And when her teacher told me, with tears in her eyes, that she had “taken advantage of Rylee all year long by sitting her by the rambunctious boys because Rylee was so peaceful in class.” And when she made a decision in seventh grade two weeks before cheerleading tryouts to be a cheerleader, worked every evening on her back handspring until the day of tryouts, and did it. And when she got her heart broken by her first real boyfriend. And when she got her first overhand serve over the volleyball net. And when she was sitting in our backyard, around the campfire, with her best friend who moved to California right before her senior year of high school. And when she kept a message from her sister, who had left for college, written on her bedroom mirror in lipstick for an entire year like it was a treasure that should never be spent.  And when she told me she had decided to go to hair school instead of college with steady eyes and an assertive, grow-up voice.

I ran to the bathroom, blew my nose, washed my hands then returned to the kitchen to pack the cookies.

“We’re like bookends, you and I. Michael, I specifically remember being absolutely smitten by the soft clean hair of my two baby girls as they had just been dried after bath time,” I thought. “And my wish to you, author friend, is that you and your sweet wife enjoy every moment right straight through to your Izzy’s last batch of school cookies.”

I locked the lid on my Rubbermaid food carrier that I was sure had been around since Rylee’s birth, and made my way to the car. It was time to go grab another memory and hang on to it with dear life. She was getting ready to complete school, and start her professional life.

I turned at the door, walked back to the bathroom, and grabbed a few Kleenexes. More prepared, I walked out the screen door, loaded the lightly-browned cookies into the passenger seat, and headed toward a memory.